What a difference a month makes in the NFL.
Just four weeks ago, every seat in Ashburn was asphalt in July H-O-T. After a 0-2 start, head coach Jay Gruden and his entire staff were calling realtors to schedule appraisals on their homes as an inpatient fan base began to run them out of town. Even golden child, general manager Scot McCloughan was facing criticism for the first time in his Redskins tenure as his draft class was under performing and he hadn’t signed a single player that could stop the run.
Then the biggest miracle since Lake Placid occurred. The Redskins began to win. Beginning with a code red like victory against Odell Beckham and his kicking net in New York. Followed by two wins against AFC North opponents, which included their first victory in Baltimore since the Ruxton Rifle, Bert Jones was quarterback. Last Sunday came the dismantling of the Philadelphia Eagles. Suddenly 0-2 morphed into 4-2. Welcome to the NFL.
Before you start pondering a hotel room for Super Bowl week, a reminder. The Redskins haven’t been 4-2 before Halloween since Jim Zorn’s 2008 squad and that season ended worse than the Sopranos finale.
If you are a lifelong Skins fan, you know to keep your expectations in check. Except for the seven George Allen years and the 16 total Joe Jackson Gibbs seasons, this franchise has been a major kick in the privates. Every time the future looks bright, Lucy pulls the football away. But this team feels different. This team fights. This team wins ugly. This team wasn’t built with headlines and jersey sales in mind, they were built to compete.
Gruden, who is transforming into an excellent NFL coach before our eyes, has put together an 11-5 record over his last 16 regular season games. You know is else is 11-5 over his last 16 regular season games? Bill Belichick. Gruden’s offensive play book has receivers running free at will and McCloughan is finding talent in unlikely places. Wide receiver-turned-cornerback turned wide out Quinton Dunbar caught a 31 yard fake punt from punter Tress Way against the Giants. That may have been the play that turned this entire season around. Undrafted free agent Robert Kelley's 45-yard run against the Eagles set the ground game tone.
Yes, even the much maligned running game has come alive. Matt Jones, who was about to lose his job to that undrafted rookie is suddenly ninth in the NFL in rushing with the second fewest carries (89) of any back in the top 10. If you saw that coming after Week Two, e-mail me and I’ll pay you to set my FanDuel lineup.
The Redskins have two games remaining before their bye. A road game this Sunday in the Motor City and the mother of all road games against Gruden’s former team, the Bengals in London. Realistically, I see this team splitting these next two games heading into their bye week. That means 5-3, which puts them on pace for a 10-6 season which would be back-to-back winning seasons for the first times since 1996-1997. That would almost surely mean back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since people watched Northern Exposure and someone with the last name Clinton first entered the White House.
While Redskins fans instinctively control their enthusiasm for fear of getting disappointed, it’s getting increasingly more difficult because the Redskins team could actually be for real.
Chuck Sapienza is the executive producer of the Naval Academy radio network and the former VP of Programming for ESPN980. He was also a part of the Washington Redskins Radio Network from 2009 to 2015, serving as the network's executive producer. He can be reached at SapienzaChuck@gmail.com
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